Interview: Boy George.
A few weeks before the court case which eventually led to his imprisonment, a cheerful and upbeat Boy George spoke to me about his return to the gigging circuit, his most recent single, and his prospective (and subsequently cancelled) headline slot on the next Here and Now tour.
Insofar as any Boy George interview can be called “standard” (as before, he was articulate, witty, waspish, and utterly charming), it was all fairly standard stuff – but in the light of subsequent events, some of George’s observations do feel especially poignant.
What follows are the edited highlights of our conversation, which took place in early November 2008.
Photo by Facundisimo veneno
You’ve just finished a fairly massive tour of the UK – your second in twelve months. Are you enjoying your return to the live stage?
Yeah, it’s been a while since I’ve done it. At the moment, it’s really enjoyable. A lot of people seem to be going out more to gigs. I know I am, and I think there’s been a bit more of an interest in it. My audience is really across the board, from 80-year old women to kids, and it’s great to go out and really get to see them. I love that.
It must have been great to sing your latest single [the Barack Obama-sampling Yes We Can] during the build-up to the US presidential election.
It’s funny, but when I talked about Barack Obama on stage, people were really weird. Like, quite hostile. I don’t know whether it’s because people aren’t into politics, or because my fans are secretly Tories…! (Laughs)
Maybe they assumed it was a straightforward “Vote for Obama” campaigning song, which would have been a bit weird. But when you look at the verses, it’s saying something quite different. There’s one line which goes “Please forgive me for these crimes against myself” – and then there’s a real sting in the next line, when you sing “And I’ll forgive your lack of faith”.
It was interesting doing that on tour, because the hostile audience made it a bit more defiant. So I was actually really enjoying singing it. But when [Obama] was elected, we saw a kind of great goodwill. And when I first heard him talk a long time ago, that’s what I saw: optimism, and a fresh look at things, which is what I think people want.
It’s a total sea change. It reminds me of 1997, when Tony Blair stormed into power and everyone seemed incredibly optimistic.
But I think he’s even more eloquent than Tony Blair. And he’s got much more charisma. The only thing that comes across as a little bit nauseating is all that stuff about America being the greatest country in the world. It’s not, you know. They throw people out of ambulances who can’t afford them! (Laughs)
Have you ever been approached for any political endorsements?
Well, I’m not really the sort of person they would ask! (Laughs) Maybe in the future, but I’ve had so much negative press that I’d probably be the last person that they’d ask!
You’ve spent a lot of time in the USA, but you seem to be concentrating back on this country now. Has the love affair with America soured?
I think Great Britain is the best place to live. I love it here. I could never live anywhere else. America is a place you should visit, but it’s not somewhere you’d live.
You’ll be headlining the next Here and Now tour in May. Is this another sign of your increased confidence in touring?
Well, we kind of started this whole thing, because about 12 years ago Culture Club did a tour with the Human League and Howard Jones. So it’s something that we’ve done already. It’s kind of an easy gig, because everyone’s doing their hits, and everyone’s just on for a certain amount of time. So it’s not like doing a normal tour. It’s fun, you know?
How well do you know the other acts on the bill?
I know Kim Wilde pretty well, and I know Hazel O’Connor because she was a Hare Krishna. A lot of them are people that I’ve bumped into, if you know what I mean. But what’s nice about these kinds of tours is that you get to work with these people when you’re older and more settled. When you’re nineteen or twenty, you think everything’s a competition. But we all make assumptions, and when you meet people they’re nothing like you think they’re going to be.
Looking back on that first flush of 1980s pop, do you think that Band Aid and Live Aid killed the party off, or was it in its death throes already?
I think it came to a natural end. Although now you can see that people are trying to recreate it. Like the Tings Tings: that record [That’s Not My Name] is basically Money by the Flying Lizards [a Top Five hit from 1979]. Somebody should do a little cut-up of those two, because it’s the same record. You can literally sing the same thing. “That’s what I want!” “That’s not my name!”
What I find perplexing is that we seem to be in the throes of yet another Sixties revival. Amy Winehouse came and did her stuff, and then we had the Duffys of this world, and now we’ve got Girls Aloud and the Sugababes doing Sixties pastiches.
I think the only one who gets away with it is Amy, because she lives it. I’ve recently been listening a lot to Frank, her first album. She really uses her voice on that album, and it’s amazing. I remember buying it and liking it, but now I really love it.
Of all those people, she stands out. No offence to any of those bands, but you know they’re just trying to have hits. What’s trendy, what’s the flavour – let’s do that. With Amy, it just feels very natural. You don’t think she’s doing a pastiche. There’s a marked difference.
You’ve got a DJ-ing date coming up in Dubai, and I’m curious to know more about the place.
I love Dubai; I go there a lot.
Is it not all just a bit sanitised?
It’s very different there; you can’t do lots of the things that you can do here. You can’t kiss men in public. The last time I was there, somebody said that you’re not allowed to be gay. I said, it’s a bit late for that! (Laughs) You can’t drink in the DJ box, and so on. But people love music, and there’s a really great audience there.
So there are club kids there, who will connect with it all? It’s not just the children of the rich?
There was a big club that was shut down, where I used to play. I looked up at the balcony, and there were all these Arabs, dressed in all their gear! But that’s the great thing about dance music; it’s kind of universal. Because a lot of it is instrumental, the language barrier is not important. I first went to Dubai ten years ago, and I thought: oh, what’s it going to be like? And it was great, and every time I’ve been there I’ve always had good shows.
Just don’t ask the cocktail waiter for a Sex On The Beach. That’s off the menu.
Or a Slow Screw! (Laughs)
I sense that there’s been a real upswing this year for you. It feels like you’re in a particularly happy place right now.
I definitely am, and that’s a choice. It’s not that anything happened; it’s more my thinking. I’ve kind of accepted that I do what I do, and I love what I do, and I’ve spent a lot of time making things into a drama that didn’t need to be a drama.
And so I’ve reached the point where I realised I had choices: you can either make things great, or make them hard work. I try to do less of that now. I did a lot of that in the past, and I think it’s really unhealthy and disruptive.